Kyle Hendricks only gave up three runs Tuesday. The Cubs beat the visiting Detroit Tigers. All the fans at the Friendly Confines had something to sing about.
But while the calendar has turned away from Hendricks’ awful June, he hasn’t turned the corner quite yet.
Hendricks lasted only five innings Tuesday, the fifth time in his last seven starts he’s failed to reach the sixth inning, and once again put his team behind early on. He allowed two runs in the first inning to balloon his first-inning ERA out to 8.47 on the season.
While Tuesday could be considered a step in the right direction from a results perspective — it wasn’t the six-run disaster he had in his previous outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers — he’s still not reminding many onlookers of the Hendricks of old: the 2016 ERA champ, the guy who posted a combined 2.51 ERA in the past two seasons.
One of the onlookers who can’t recognize this Hendricks: Joe Maddon.
“It was not typical surgical-like procedure from Kyle,” the Cubs skipper said after Tuesday’s game. “He’s fine, his arm’s well, it’s great, he looks good. It’s just not executing. And with him, it’s happened before, we’ll figure it out.
“Part of it is the lack of execution right now. It’s very unfamiliar from the dugout watching it out there.”
Hendricks’ summer struggles have been just one of the things to go haywire with what was supposed to be one of the best starting rotations in baseball. That distinction could certainly still play out by the time the games really start counting and the pennant chases kick into high gear, but to this point only Jon Lester has lived up to preseason expectations placed on the starting staff.
Hendricks owns a 4.27 ERA after Tuesday’s outing. Jose Quintana is at 4.31. Tyler Chatwood is at 4.54. And the still-injured Yu Darvish has been Cubs fans’ biggest concern of the season with his 4.95 ERA.
Things really started going bad for Hendricks at the start of last month, and he wrapped the 30-day stretch with a 1-4 record and a 7.03 ERA in five June starts. There was no gaudy damage on the scoreboard Tuesday and the Cubs’ offense was able to pick Hendricks up, but he was lifted after throwing only 78 pitches and still saw his ERA increase.
“The way we’ve been swinging it, just try to minimize as much as I can,” Hendricks said. “Letting the leadoff guys get on, getting behind guys and missing spots, that’s a bad recipe for me right now. Just got to stick with it, keep battling and find something.
“Just take the good pitches I did make and that good feeling and try and translate that to my bullpen. I’ve just got to get the good habits going rep after rep. It’s just one bad, one good. The repeatability, right now. So just really focus on the good ones I’m making and try to lock that into my side sessions.
“When you make bad pitches, you’re going to get hurt.”
Hendricks actually didn’t lament his first-inning woes too much Tuesday, saying he made just one bad pitch despite three of the first four Tigers hitters reaching base and scoring two runs out of the deal.
Maddon, though, thinks there’s something to Hendricks’ first-inning troubles. After all, in every inning he’s thrown this season that hasn’t been the game’s first, he’s got a 3.38 ERA.
“With him, it’s hard to fault anything that he does. I would bet it’s just a confidence issue, more just trusting yourself,” Maddon said. “He knows that, he knows exactly what you’re talking about (the first-inning numbers), so he’s walking out there with that in his back pocket thinking about it. We’ve just got to get him by that for a couple outings and that’ll get him back to normalcy.
“I’m certain he’s aware of what you’re talking about, and that’s probably the reason why he’s still doing it.”
How long it takes Hendricks to get back to being the guy Cubs fans are used to watching remains to be seen. It’s become the story of the season, the starting staff’s struggles, and what happens with Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Darvish over the season’s next three months will determine how realistic another World Series run is for this team.
But even with four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation riding a season-long roller coaster, the Cubs remain one of the National League’s best squads, neck and neck with the Milwaukee Brewers at the top of the NL Central standings.
“That just shows, all the other aspects, how good they’ve been,” Hendricks said. “The bullpen, obviously, and the lineup, the runs we’re scoring. And how good Lester’s been doing. We’ve had one guy that’s been carrying it, and the rest of us have just been up and down.
“A little bit surprising in a way, maybe, but as good as all those other parts have been, I think once we can get rolling, that shows how good we can be.”